2020 marks a new decade in travel and, for some, that means splurging on the trip of a lifetime. These life-changing vacations include everything from a quintessential, tropical beach escape in Mexico, to stargazing under the Northern Lights near the Arctic Circle.
10Best Editor Maggie Tuten Tyner says travelers in 2020 will spend more time taking immersive vacations — that is, really getting to know the places they visit and the local community.
After a year of record high and low temperatures, fires in California and floods in Texas, Americans are now paying more attention to the environmental impact of their stay. Increasingly, according to Lonely Planet, Americans are choosing destinations based on sustainable credentials: from green zones, to energy-efficient rail and transportation lines, to eco-friendly and low-impact tourism policies.
Another emerging trend is volunteer travel, or voluntourism, in which travelers do good while exploring the world — either dedicating their entire vacation to helping, or doing a little where they are.
Life-changing vacations can be to any destination, says 10Best travel contributor Robin Raven: “It all depends on your mindset and what you hope to experience or perhaps change in your life.”
Raven says go with an open heart and toss out any preconceived notions as best you can.
Whether you’re looking for outdoor adventure, a relaxing beach getaway, a winter escape, a vacation built around sustainability or a trip to improve your long-term health, we have you covered with these five extraordinary life-changing vacations.
1. Mar de Jade, Mexico — a beach retreat for the exhausted traveler
Who it is for: Those seeking a relaxing, mind-body detox and maximum beach time to recharge. You need some sunshine, but you don’t have time to travel all the way to India or Bali.
Why it could be life-changing: This 100% deserves to be on your travel bucket list. You’ll feel recharged after a week on this small beach without regular internet or phone service. Immerse yourself in yoga and meditation for maximum results. Bonus: Follow a secret path through palm trees to visit a temazcal, an ancient Aztec sweat lodge, for a guided ceremony meant to purify the body and mind.
Why it’s popular: Mar de Jade is one of those rare yoga and wellness retreats that remains relatively undiscovered. Set right on the beach in the small fishing village of Chacala on Mexico’s Pacific Coast, Mar de Jade has everything you’d want in a beach escape: hammocks, ocean views, tropical wildlife, yoga and meditation, wildly delicious organic Mexican food, a pool and a hot tub surrounded by bougainvillea. Hiking, surfing and boating excursions are available, if you feel motivated. Otherwise, spend your days lounging on soft, golden sand and swimming in the ocean, book ended by sensational sunrises and sunsets.
Tips for traveling there: Located approximately 90 minutes north of Puerto Vallarta Airport by taxi, this winter escape is especially convenient for those out west. (Fly direct from Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Salt Lake City and Chicago, and don’t forget your passport.)
Estimated budget: $2,300–$3,152 per week, for two people (all-inclusive).
Another option: If you are traveling from the east coast and are seeking something family-friendly closer to home, Grace Bay Beach in Turks and Caicos boasts a dozen miles of powder-white sand and crystal-clear waters. Voted time and again one of the best beaches in the world, it really is as tranquil as it is breathtaking.
For those worried about their carbon footprint, eco-friendly Ocean Club Resorts on Grace Bay Beach is the first hotel in the Turks and Caicos that will be Green Globe certified by 2020. If you want to give back while on vacation, the resort partners with Pack for a Purpose. Save space in your suitcase and bring school supplies for the local grade school and high schools, or medical supplies for a local clinic. (Direct flights from New York, Atlanta and Miami.) Don’t forget your passport — it’s a U.K. territory. The estimated budget for this $3,494–$5,552 per week, for two people.
Who it is for: Those who value experiences over things and who love winter in all its glory.
Why it could be life-changing: Seeing the Northern Lights is a once-in-a-lifetime outdoor adventure you’ll remember forever. It’s a staple on many people’s travel bucket lists.
Why it’s popular: Travel to Finland continues to grow by record numbers as more Americans explore adventures in far-flung corners of the globe. Immerse yourself in the deep winter darkness of the Finnish Lapland and experience the Northern Lights at the edge of the Arctic Circle. This trip gives new meaning to the idea of unplugging and reconnecting with nature. Finland is one of the happiest nations in the world, and the Finnish attribute their happiness to being in nature. Here you will experience how to embrace the coziness of winter. Visitors fly into Levi, where they’re surrounded by jaw-dropping, snow-covered landscapes as they sleep under the stars in their very own glass igloo designed for maximum viewing pleasure.
Tips for traveling there: From the U.S., fly to Helsinki, the Nordic capital of cool, famous as much for its groundbreaking cuisine as its year-round sauna culture. (Finnair offers direct flights from New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Miami.)
Estimated budget: $3,000–$5,000 per person, per week (including meals), or $5,000–$10,000 for two people, per week.
3. Hilton Head, South Carolina — a journey inward for the health-conscious traveler
Who it is for: People with health problems, or those who want to commit to a healthier lifestyle.
Why it could be life-changing:Hilton Head Health was named the best wellness retreat and resort in the country this year by USA Today’s 10Best. H3 is a travel bucket list destination where people go to change their life. Stays range from a few days up to a few months. Why it’s popular: Thousands of guests over the last 40 years have come to Hilton Head Island in South Carolina to lose significant weight and seriously improve their health. The center doesn’t use fancy equipment (although it does have a state-of-the-art gym) or gimmicks. Instead, H3’s holistic weight loss approach includes fitness, wellness, mindfulness and healthy eating — including information about portion control and nutrition. Guests eat three healthy, delicious, low-calorie meals each day plus snacks, so you don’t go hungry.
This unique all-inclusive weight loss resort and wellness spa caters to adults — a number of whom return year after year, losing anywhere between 50–100 pounds. A staff of supportive dietitians, nutritionists, fitness instructors and wellness coaches provides a loving and compassionate environment for visitors with weight loss goals or significant health problems, including obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
Tips for traveling there: Bring exercise clothes, sneakers and a swimsuit. Savannah-Hilton Head Airport, located about 45 minutes away, is the closest major airport.
Estimated budget: $3,225 per week, per person, or $14,925 for four weeks per person (all-inclusive).
4. Vancouver, British Columbia — a green vacation for the sustainable traveler
Who it is for: Those worried about the planet who are eco-friendly tourists.
Why it could be life-changing: Vancouver, western Canada’s laid-back, sea-to-sky beauty, vowed to be the greenest city in the world by 2020. As a result, it is the most eco-friendly town in North America where sustainability goes hand-in-hand with its hospitality, making it perfect for anyone’s travel bucket list.
Why it’s popular:Lonely Planet named Vancouver one of the top 10 cities to visit in 2020 because of its status as a leader in urban sustainability and its overall commitment to making nature a part of Vancouver, not separate from it. This is a city you can bike, thanks to an expanded bike path system and the expansion of the Seawall in Stanley Park. Public transportation is cheap and convenient, beaches are readily accessible, and it’s easy to get out of town to the mountains or nearby Vancouver Island.
“This summer, I spent a week hiking Vancouver Island’s rugged and stunning West Coast Trail with BCA Tours, and it was a challenging, beautiful and transformative travel experience on so many levels,” says 10Best travel contributor Corinne Whiting. “I recommend taking an ‘adventure’ vacation that tests limits both physically and mentally, nudging you to fully disconnect and step beyond your comfort zone.”
This green city also boasts zero-waste restaurants, a city-wide recycling program and sustainable green buildings. Chefs do their part to source locally and seasonally. The Fairmont Pacific Rim serves sustainable seafood in its RawBar, making it the first 100 percent Ocean Wise-designated sushi spot in town.
This ultramodern hotel for luxury-minded, sustainable travelers offers unobstructed views of the mountains and Coal Harbour, plus it features three restaurants, a spa, rooftop hot tubs and a pool sundeck. The 5-Green Key-rated hotel supplies guests with bikes to minimize their carbon footprint and uses iPads and mobile check-ins to reduce paper and divert waste.
Tips for traveling there: To reach this travel bucket list destination, fly into Vancouver International Airport (nonstop flights from New York, Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle, San Francisco and Dallas).
Estimated budget: $2,440–$4,028 for one week for two people (not including meals).
Who it is for: Anyone who wants to immerse themselves in another community or culture needs this destination on their travel bucket list.
Why it could be life-changing: For those who love to travel, exploring the world can feel more like a calling than simply a break from the office. Especially for millennials and younger travelers, who value experiences over things, visiting another country can be a gateway to a much deeper experience.
“I highly recommend giving back while on vacation,” says 10Best travel contributor Lavanya Sunkara, who got her start traveling the world in college when she signed up for Global Outreach (GO!) at Fordham University. Sunkara has done a number of volunteer trips, including one to West Virginia, where she helped build houses with Habitat For Humanity, one to Oaxaca, Mexico, to do recycling projects, and another to Guatemala with Share Tours where she helped build a school in a mountain village.
Why it’s popular: Go Overseas runs volunteer trips around the world, including to Le Ceiba, Honduras, and its surrounding areas. Volunteer projects support local children at orphanages and primary schools, teaching them much-needed English language skills. Volunteers can also work at the local hospital and HIV clinic.
Tips for traveling there: Fly into Roatan International Airport (flights from Dallas, Atlanta, Miami, Houston and Newark depart once or twice a week). Once in Roatan, take a cab to the ferry terminal and take a 1.5-hour ferry to La Ceiba.
Estimated budget: $995–$1095 per person for two weeks, or $1990–$2190 for two people for two weeks (includes meals and Spanish language immersion).
Another voluntourism option: “My life-changing trip was Women’s Journey to Kenya, which is a women-only trip to meet the women of Africa and immerse yourself in the culture,” says 10Best travel contributor Lois Alter Mark. “Proving that we are all ultimately more alike than we are different. Talking about marriage, divorce and children with the Samburu women (through a translator) in the middle of the desert was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I will never forget.”
Remember, no matter what your life-changing vacation destination is, what counts most is your mindset.
We traveled to one of the most relaxing, meditative cities in the country to learn how they make healthful, mood-boosting chocolate. Check out the video below!